Children’s Mental Health Declared a National Emergency
Schools across the country are closing again amid a surge of cases from the omicron variant, as the state of children and adolescents’ mental health has been deemed a national crisis.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association released a joint “declaration of a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health.”
“This worsening crisis in child and adolescent mental health is inextricably tied to the stress brought on by COVID-19 […] represents an acceleration of trends observed prior to 2020. Rates of childhood mental health concerns and suicide rose steadily between 2010 and 2020 and by 2018 suicide was the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24. The pandemic has intensified this crisis: across the country we have witnessed dramatic increases in Emergency Department visits for all mental health emergencies including suspected suicide attempts,” the statement read.
The warnings come as many students return to remote learning, which experts believe will “set things back even further.”
“It’s a huge concern,” said Dr. Sara Bode, a member of the AAP Council on School Health. “Kids have been through a lot. What I can tell you through my experiences in schools is that when schools got back to in-person learning, it wasn’t so quick and easy for kids to adjust. They had been out for a long period of time. It took weeks for schools to get back to their routines and positive culture and climate, and now, with another set of disruptions, it [will] just set things back even further.”
Bode said schools that are trying to mitigate coronavirus transmission are some of the safest places for children to be right now, compared to other places in their communities that don’t have such measures.
“Of course, it’s not zero-risk to have kids in school,” she said. “With this increase in transmissibility, we will likely see an increase in cases in schools, but it’s likely not higher risk than many of the other activities kids participate in when they’re not in school.”
CDC data for 2020 shows more than 6,600 suicides among Americans ages 10 to 24. Emergency room visits for suicide attempts rose 51% among adolescent girls during the pandemic and increased by 4% among boys.
“We have definitely still seen a persistent increase in kids at all levels of mental health crisis, [including] those who are needing to go into the hospital or go to the emergency room due to an acute mental health crisis or suicide attempts or thoughts, down to a large number of students that are seeking counseling for mental health concerns,” Bode said.
According to Bode, the AAP is “prioritizing in-person learning and using the available mitigation strategies” to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As long as the schools utilize the appropriate measures, the AAP recommends in-person learning — even through the omicron surge.
“We’re saying that because we realize just how critical it is for schools to be in-person learning. Part of that is […] their mental health, social, emotional health. What it means for their academics. We believe school is an essential service,” Bode said.